Daylilies have been called the perfect perennial — they are tough, adaptable, and daylily care is easy, yet their form is as elegant and refined as a Rolls-Royce. It can be hard to find a garden without a patch of daylilies and roadsides in many regions are carpeted in the tall, orange-colored daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) that escaped cultivation and learned to live life outside the bounds of domestication. The latter form is technically considered an invasive species, though it’s so charming that we can hardly bear to call it a weed.
But beyond the shelves at every garden center where we see the same popular varieties every year, daylilies have quite a rock star lifestyle, complete with groupies who obsess over their every move. Daylily breeding is a hobby undertaken by a closely networked circle of enthusiasts around the globe, introducing hundreds of new varieties every year with exotic color combinations and bizarre petal patterns and markings. Numbers vary on the total number of registered daylily varieties. The American Daylily Society puts the current number at more than 89,000, and that number is sure to keep increasing as interest in “backyard”, as well as commercial hybridizing efforts remains strong.
Are Daylilies Native Plants?
Daylilies are not true North American native plants; however, they have become naturalized over time, and it is now very common to find daylilies growing in the wild. All Hemerocallis species originated in Asia. From Asia, they found their way into Europe, most likely via the Silk Road, and eventually were brought to North America by European settlers.
Types of Daylilies
Hemerocallis is a combination of the Greek words “hemera” which means day, and “kallos” which means beauty – hence “beauty for a day”. That is one thing all the many daylily varieties have in common, each flower opens in the morning and expires by evening. There are even nocturnal species, such as the Hemerocallis citrina or altissima species, with flowers that open at dusk. The blooms remain open through the night, but by morning the flowers will be nearing their expiration, having completed the “day”.
How to Choose Daylilies
Since there are thousands of variations on daylilies it may be difficult to know where to start if you are trying to grow daylilies for the first time. Here are some key types and flower forms that you are most likely to find for sale at the garden center or online. When choosing daylilies, know that different varieties may bloom at different times from spring through summer; loosely defined as early, mid and late-season bloom types. If you plan to grow several daylilies, try to choose varieties of each type to maximize the length of your overall daylily flower season. There are also everblooming daylily types that will produce flowers on and off all season long.
Daylily blooms are a combination of three main petals and three smaller sepals that together form the trumpet shape of the daylily flower. Single daylilies are the most common form, with just one layer of petals and sepals.
A growing favorite among daylily lovers are single daylilies with frilled petal edges, sometime called “pie crust” daylilies because of their resemblance to the decorative pinched edge of a pie crust. Daylilies with ruffled petal edges are a fancy version of a basic daylily but are just as durable.
Double daylilies have two or more layers of petals and sepals. Some varieties are so layered and dense with petals that at first glance, they may not even be recognizable as a daylily!
Miniature or Dwarf Daylilies
There is a growing interest in miniature or “dwarf” daylilies and new hybrids are regularly introduced to the market. These daylilies are sized right for gardeners with limited growing space, for use in pots, or to create a low border along a path, fence, or foundation. Many dwarf daylilies bloom over a long season and the range of colors is expanding along with the new introductions.
The standard definition of a spider daylily is any plant that has flowers with petals at least four times as long as they are wide, giving the bloom a spider-legged appearance. This is a great choice for anyone who enjoys plants with an unconventional or artistic twist.
Nocturnal daylilies are a small group that bloom late in the day, remain open through the night, and expire early the following day. They’re great to come home to after a long day of work since they’re just getting started when you’re ready to relax and enjoy your garden. Nocturnal daylilies also help support many nocturnal insects such as moths, beetles, and some types of bees. Nocturnal creatures are the unsung heroes of the pollinator world and their importance in nature’s larger pollination picture is often overlooked.
Nocturnal daylilies may be a little harder to come by at garden centers, but you can probably find them through online retailers. Start your search by looking for the Hemerocallis species citrina or altissima. Like other types of daylilies, new varieties are being developed and introduced to the market, so you may find hybrids of these species in a wider range of colors than the typical yellow flowers.
The daylily species found in nature are usually in the orange and yellow range. Hybridization efforts over many years have resulted in a dazzling array of colors and blends that include deep burgundy and purple tones to red and rose shades and literally everything in between! With a little research you’re bound to find a variety that suits your favorite color scheme.
Daylily Bloom Season
Depending on what part of the country you reside in, the daylily bloom season can extend from spring through late summer. Individual plants usually produce flowers for five to six weeks. There are some varieties that are capable of reblooming. These typically produce a flush of blooms, taper off, and then produce a smaller flush of flowers later.
Does Daylily Grow from a Bulb?
Daylilies do not grow from a bulb. The roots are a combination of large, fleshy tuberous roots and finer, fibrous roots.
When to Plant Daylilies
Ideally you want to plant daylilies in the spring, but like most perennial flowers, you can plant them in the fall as well. Fall is a good time to divide daylilies while the plants are still visible above the ground, and you can see what you’re doing. Fall planting still allows time for the roots to settle in before they go dormant for the winter.
What is the Best Place to Plant Daylilies?
Daylilies are rugged perennial plants that thrive in sunny conditions (preferably 6+ hours of sun per day) and well-drained, organic-rich soil. They grow just about everywhere, from USDA growing zones 3 through 10. Daylily plants make a beautiful border all on their own when planted in a row or use them as a middle to background plant in a mixed flower border. They’re a good choice for mass planting on a hillside, where it may be difficult to mow or maintain complicated planting designs. Even when not in bloom, the long, narrow foliage of daylily plants adds beautiful texture and contrast to the landscape.
Smaller daylily varieties can be grown in large pots to decorate a sunny deck or patio. Daylilies grown in pots should be given some winter protection in regions with hard winters. Move pots to a location such as a shed or garage, or place along a house, wall, or fence where they’ll be sheltered from direct, cold winds. The roots of plants in pots are more vulnerable to freezing temperatures than those planted in the ground. With proper protection, your potted daylilies will die down in the winter and reemerge in the spring, just like plants growing in the ground.
How to Plant Daylilies
Plan to space your daylilies 15-24” (38-60cm) apart depending on the variety you are growing. Give larger varieties a little more space, dwarf varieties can be planted more closely, or you can space plants any sized plants more closely if your goal is to fill in an area faster.
To plant your daylily, dig a hole approximately 12” (30cm) deep. You want it deep enough to cover the roots just above the crown of the plant (the region where the roots merge with the foliage). If you are planting bare roots, using one hand hold the crown of the plant at approximately ground level and with your other hand slowly fill in around the roots, making sure not to leave air pockets. Once the hole is filled, gently tamp down the soil around the plant with your foot and apply water to fully settle the soil around the roots.
Depending on rainfall, you may need to monitor your new plants for a few weeks to prevent the roots from getting dry. Once your plant is clearly producing new growth and seems settled in, you should be able to adjust to your regular watering routine. For established plants, 1” (2.5cm) of water per week is usually sufficient, unless you have sandy soils which may dry out more quickly and require more frequent watering.
New daylily plantings will benefit from a 2” (5cm) layer of mulch to help keep the roots cool and retain moisture going into the heat of summer. Refreshing the mulch around established plants in the spring can also be helpful for the same reasons.
Do Daylilies Spread and Multiply?
Daylilies do spread slowly as the roots increase over time. After your plant has been in place for about three years, it’s time to assess whether it has room to continue spreading, or if you need to lift the plant and divide it to maintain the appropriate size for its space. If you have daylilies in a mixed perennial flower garden, you might be especially concerned about making sure they don’t encroach on surrounding plants.
There are several options for fertilizing daylilies. To save time and minimize how often you need to feed your daylilies, you can take an organic approach and apply a layer of compost, or you could apply a slow-release granulated feed designed for blooming plants. If you want to nourish your plants quickly, choose a liquid fertilizer for blooming plants. Liquid fertilizers require more frequent applications, but nutrients are available for plants to uptake right away.
Each trumpet-like bloom of a daylily only lasts for only one day, but each stalk (known as a scape) will produce several flowers. The flowers open in the morning and are done when they close in the evening. Most varieties offer up daily blooms for several weeks and some rebloom throughout the entire summer. To keep plants tidy, you can pluck off the spent flowers every couple of days. When the bloom season is over (no new buds are emerging from the stalks) you can cut the entire stem off at its base. If your daylily is a variety that reblooms, it will produce new stalks.
Note that if you want to collect seed from your daylily plant, you should not deadhead the blooms. Just leave the flower stalks alone so that seed pods can grow and develop. The green pods will eventually start to dry and split, indicating that the seeds are mature. Be sure to keep an eye on pod development so that you can harvest the seed before the pods split and release the seeds to the ground. Seeds can be stored for planting in the spring.
Can I Grow Daylilies in a Pot?
Dwarf varieties of daylilies will grow very well in a pot in a sunny location. In fact, the long, grassy clump of foliage that daylilies produce looks lovely draping over the pot, even when the plants aren’t in bloom. With proper winter protection, potted daylilies will return year after year. Every three years or so, depending on how quickly your plant grows, plan to either divide your daylily or move it to a larger container to prevent it from becoming rootbound.
How to Divide Daylilies
It’s very easy to divide a mature daylily plant. Division is beneficial for the overall health of the plant by ensuring it has adequate space to grow and receive light. This often results in better flower production. You can divide plants in early spring or wait until after flowering and divide later in the summer or fall. Newly divided plants are unlikely to flower until the following season.
Follow these simple steps to divide a daylily plant:
1. Dig around the plant just outside of the root zone and about a foot (30cm) deep.
2. Gently wedge your shovel underneath the root ball and carefully lift the roots, clearing away loose soil as you go to release the roots.
3. Cut the plant apart making sure where you make the cuts that you have a clump of foliage with roots attached. Cut the foliage down to about 6” (15cm). This will reduce transplanting stress on the new plant as it readjusts.
4. Either pot the divisions to share with others or dig a new hole for each plant. Dig the soil deep enough that the crown of the plant (the area where the roots meet the foliage) will rest just below the soil surface line. This is a good time to mix in some compost if your soil is lacking in organic matter. Fill soil in around the roots.
5. Water in the new plants.
6. Apply an inch or two (2.5-5cm) of mulch to help retain moisture and keep roots cool.
Daylily Fall and Winter Care
Daylily foliage will naturally die down to the ground in late fall. Once the leaves are brown and withered, they will usually lift easily away from the plant crown with a slight tug. If not, you can cut them off close to the base. A light winter mulch will help protect the roots, especially in regions with hard winters.
If you allowed your daylilies to produce seed pods, by fall any remaining pods should be dry and splitting to reveal shiny black seeds.
Do Daylilies Make Good Cut Flowers?
Daylilies make excellent cut flowers as long as you keep in mind that the flowers only last for a day. This isn’t a flower you want to use in floral arrangements for an evening event as the wilting blooms will spoil the appearance of your bouquets as they expire for the day. A single stem in a bud vase makes a striking display. It’s quite possible that a scape cut with several buds nearing maturity will have flowers opening over a few days, albeit each day’s flower will diminish in size based on the remaining bud sizes.
Can You Eat Daylilies?
Yes, you can eat the young daylily sprouts emerging from the ground in the spring and the flowers. These may be sauteed, boiled, or battered and fried. The flower buds are edible raw, but they are popular for making fritters or drying for later use. Be sure to wash daylily parts before consuming to remove any debris or insects, just as you would any fresh produce.
A word of caution, you want to be very certain that the “lily” you are considering eating is a Hemerocallis plant. There are many plants that include the name “lily” in their common name. Peace lily, tiger lily, water lily, and lily-of-the-valley are just a few examples of plants that share the common name “lily” but are each is an entirely separate plant genus. Every plant called a “lily” may not be edible, and may even be toxic, so be sure to do your research and make sure your plant is a Hemerocallis lily before you eat it.
Also, be sure you harvest from daylily plants that you know have not been treated with garden chemicals. That includes harvesting from plants growing along roadways. Daylilies growing along the roadside are potentially exposed to agricultural chemicals as well as gasoline and oils from vehicles and asphalt pavement.
Looking for more ideas on perennial flowers to plant with your daylilies? Choosing plants that bloom at different times of the season will provide an everchanging display of color and variety in your garden. Get tips in our article Choosing Perennials for a Bloom-filled Summer.